The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s premiere of a new work on Monday, June 22, will touch our current times in more ways than one.
The work, “Gratias Tibi” (thank you), is dedicated to those who have been on the front lines of keeping our culture and ourselves alive during the current pandemic.
Since concerts are banned during this time, the work will be streamed.
And the work composed by Chilean-born composer and NJSO conductor Jose Luis Dominguez was created to conform to social distancing practices through current technology.
“Every single musician and singer had to record apart and alone in their homes,” says Dominguez during a recent interview. “They followed a metronome without hearing anyone else.”
Dominguez says he sent each musician an email with scores containing their specific part as well as the full seven-minute work, composed for a full orchestra and choir. Musicians from the NJSO were joined by the Montclair State University Singers for the recording.
The musicians then visually and audibly recorded themselves playing their parts and digitally returned them NJSO engineer Daniel Graziano.
He, in turn, created a data bank of parts and voices and, since they were recorded on a variety of instruments and devices, digitally homogenized them for quality.
Then the composer/conductor and engineer arranged the work based on the timing supplied by the metronome.
“I had to do the math,” says Dominguez about assembling he work.
He also had to anticipate things that were missing from a traditional rehearsal. “Sometimes in music you use verbal requirements. I had to put that down in the paper where they wouldn’t need input.
“Doing this (type of performance) is very challenging, even for the best of musicians. It’s not demanding technically, but playing without anyone else is out of the comfort zone. Musicians tune-in better when they are playing with others.”
Dominguez says the “not demanding” approach was to keep the work from not being a showcase for him or the musicians but to be focused on a simple thank you.
He says it also allowed him to work in a traditional manner to evoke emotion through phrasing.
The piece uses three Latin phrases expressing thanks: Gratias tibi, Gratias agimus tibi (We give you thanks), and Et nos sumus in perpetuum gratus (And we are forever grateful). Latin was chosen because it is considered a universal language.
“Those phrases allowed me to develop the piece. Different vowels can be extended by the choir for emotion. The orchestra and voices blend in a religious way,” he says.
The composer says the idea for the piece began to grow when the orchestra began cancelling performances and programs.
As a conductor in the NJSO Academy Youth Orchestra, Dominguez says, “the first thing we did was to keep the academy orchestra running. The reason was to keep students working and to put content out there with hope and beauty.”
Meanwhile, the NJSO was streaming concerts from their sites, and Dominguez told the organization’s director of artistic planning, Patrick Chamberlain, he was available to help. “And suddenly this idea came up,” says Dominguez.
“Never in my life had I ever thought of anything like this,” he says about the work he wrote in five days in mid-April.
And while other orchestras can be seen online playing existing scores, Dominguez says, “We wanted to do something from scratch.”
“Having the technology today to create a piece where we couldn’t get together — our responsibility as artists is to do it and get it out there,” even though it is nothing like a live concert experience.
Under the circumstances, he says, “It helps us keep going and reach the community.”
But more importantly, it is also “a huge attempt to thank our healers.”
The world premiere of “Gratias Tibi” takes place Monday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m. at www.njsymphony.org/gratiastibi and on the NJSO’s social media channels. Videos of the performance will be posted after the performance. For more on information: www.njsymphony.org/gratiastibi.